Iran

JUST TWO WEEKS after rioting which shook the entire country, Tabriz today outwardly looks like nothing really happened.

Aside from an occasional helicopter overhead - and riot police stationed at the university - there's little to show that rioters selectively attacked targets along the 7.5-mile main street called Pahlevi Avenue after the ruling dynasty.

The last infantry troops were withdrawn two days ago from this some-what dingy city of 800,000 once described as built by nomads who never decided to stay.

The considerable physical damage to stores, banks, government buildings and other targets has been repaired with a rapidity and care bordering on the miraculous considering how long such things can take here in less dramatic circumstances.

But another kind of damage is proving more difficult to fix. It concerns the city's soul and self-confidence. The Tabrizis are nervous if not surprised.

Indeed their city's reputation for defiance of central government authority is so well established that historically minded Iranians were surprised only at oficialdom's claims of being caught unawares.

Nor was the strongly puritanical Islamic character of much of the rampage out of character: history and religion long have been entwined in Tabriz.

It was here in 1499 that Shah Ishmael was crowned first of a long line of Safavid rulers and established the Shilte sect of Islam as the country's national faith.

In 1908 Mohamed Ali Shah of the declining Qajar dynasty successfully besieged Tabriz. The city had risen in revolt to defend the 1906 constitution and its provisions favoring liberal reform - and a key role for Moslem clergy in deciding legislation.

The antigovernment agitation recently has been conducted in the name of that very constitution by the leading Shi Ite temporal figure in Iran, Ayatollah Seyed Ghassem Shariatmadari. Although based in the holy city of Qom, he is a native Tabrizi and maintains close links with his flock here.

INDICATIVE OF the basic conservatism of this deeply religious city was the advice that "it is not comfortable for women to shop in the bazaar during certain seasons of religious activity.

At all times they must expect and be prepared to deal with a certain amount of petty molestation. Conservative clothing should be worn at all time."

That warning was not taken from a turn-of-the-century guide book, but from the latest version of a mimeographed advisory to tourists put out by the American consulate.

The rioters favorite targets included liquor stores and the sexually explicit billboards on movie houses, both considered the work of the devil by puritanical Moslems.

Also singled out for special punishment among the 73 banks damaged were branch as of the Bank Saderat, until recently owned in part by Hojabr Yazdani. He is a follower of Bahai, a syncretic sect incorporating elements of major world religions, including, of course, Islam.

That is looked upon as heresy. Suddenly last month a country-wide run on Saderat branches reached such proportions, it is said, that the Shah himself persuaded Yazdani to sell his shares.

It was in this kind of atmosphere that the riots occurred. For days the bazaar, that traditional bastion of religious fervor, was plastered with signs announcing a nationwide strike for Feb. 18 to commemorate the scores of faithful killed 40 days earlier in Qom when police fired on a crowd of Moslem demonstrators.

RESIDENTS ARE convinced that a protest march had been carefully planned, which did not rule out the kind of violence which followed as the rioters used fire bombs and bricks on their targets.

Tabrizis, never known as an open or welcoming lot, appear to have retreaed into a world of rumor - about the number of dead, wounded and arrested, the future and possible punishment.

The only 100 per cent good thing that has happened since the riots, people seem to agree, is the Shah's unusual decision to fire top officials, starting with a much-hated governor general. He was a military man who combined imperiousness with a disturbing reputation for not paying bills.

But the real question is whether any central government official will ever be like here, a cynical Tabrizi said.